I’ve been hearing some talk lately about new and “gritty” fiction in the CBA. Well, frankly, I’m not sure what’s new about it. We’ve had realistic fiction in the Christian publishing industry for years–in fact, some of my first novels were VERY gritty (it’s not for nothing medieval times were called the Dark Ages.)

In the last few years, I’ve read Christian novels about child abuse, spouse abuse, divorce, prostitution, alcoholism, drug abuse, homosexuality, adultery, mental illness, death–all areas are open to Christian fiction and have been for ages.

I’ve also published 105 books in the Christian market, from Nelson/WestBow, Bethany, Zondervan, Multnomah, Standard, Chariot, Tyndale House, and Steeple Hill, and never have I been handed a list of topics or words I wasn’t allowed to employ. Now, something like that may exist, but I suspect it’s merely part of writer’s guidelines for a new publishing house or for new writers. And don’t scores of secular publishing houses have guidelines that state what they will and won’t publish?

I’ve always been given remarkable freedom. My editors have trusted me, and in return, I’ve trusted the wisdom of my editors.

Because when it gets down to it, Christian publishers and Christian writers are not “normal” people. We are publishing books first and foremost for the glory of God. Creating art is but a means to that end. We don’t follow the ways of the world; we follow Jesus Christ. And part of that following involves adhering to a standard of holy living. We live, not to please ourselves or to exercise our rights, but to lay our rights at the feet of the cross in the hope that we may serve Him who gave his all for us.

Because, you see, writing is not about the exercise of my freedom–it’s an exercise of communication to reach readers–readers I love. Yes, love, and that’s an active verb. Loving my readers means being careful to choose words that will reach them, not offend them. Loving people means showing Christ to them.

That doesn’t mean we don’t tackle tough topics; we do. But it means I’m going to do my best to approach those topics in a way that doesn’t leave my readers feeling violated.

If being gritty or realistic means including words or sexual acts that would offend the sensibilities of most of my readers (and not all of them are Christian), then I don’t want to exercise that freedom. It’s about love, you see. It’s about working first to fulfill my calling to please my Lord.

I’ve offended people without meaning to–one woman once wrote me to say that she’d taken only one book (one of mine) on her vacation, and because it was about a woman having an affair, she didn’t want to read it, so I ruined her vacation! Sometimes, without meaning to, we can cross a line–mainly because readers have lines in different places.

Writers surely have lines in different places, too. But as long as I’m writing for Christian publishers, I’m certainly going to respect their standards. I believe they’re appropriate standards for a Christian writer no matter who he/she is writing for.


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